Will Duke Lake ever see a drop of water?
The Spanish philosopher George Santayana once served up the admonition that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
It also must be said that those who cannot remember the past – or know precious little about it in the first place – are condemned to looking at the present with no sense of context or proportion, and are also prone to making fools of themselves.
Perhaps no better example of the latter is the clothing retailer Urban Outfitters. After the latest controversy the Philadelphia-based company has stumbled into, we can only assume that no one in the company’s higher echelons ever stayed awake during history classes.
Before an entirely predictable firestorm erupted, the company was peddling on its website a one-of-a-kind pink sweatshirt for $129 with a Kent State University logo that featured holes and what appeared to be bloodstains. It was, the company pointed out, a used item and of uncertain provenance. It was faded from the sun and the red splotches were merely remnants of its original shade.
Maybe so. But a fundamental knowledge that Kent State University, located a two-hour drive from Washington in Kent, Ohio, was the site of the massacre of four students by National Guardsmen during a Vietnam War protest in May 1970 should have led the powers-that-be at Urban Outfitters to think that, well, maybe this is an item that would have been better consigned to the ragbag than the online bazaar. One commentator aptly said it reached “the outer limits of bad taste.”
But, then again, Urban Outfitters has a formidable track record of tone-deaf marketing stumbles, from putting Navajo-labeled clothes on its racks that were not crafted by American Indians and were considered by some to be demeaning and insensitive, to boot. There were also the $100 T-shirts designed with a six-pointed star badge that bore a discomfiting resemblance to the Star of David patches that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. Again, the words “distasteful” and “offensive” were lobbed at the company.
Is this all done for shock value, and toward getting attention by the media, both social and traditional? Perhaps. It could be that the whiff of notoriety makes a $100 T-shirt a more attractive investment. If not, it demonstrates an ignorance of history that is, like the products themselves, truly shocking.
Sept. 23, 1980, was a Tuesday, just like today. The Pirates drew 26,000 people to Three Rivers Stadium that night, and they saw the team lose to the Montreal Expos by a score of 7-1. The Steelers were recovering from a narrow loss to the Cincinnati Bengals two days before, and there was a concert happening that night at the Stanley Theater in downtown.
The two sporting events have long since faded into a jumble of statistics and trivia. The concert, however, has become the stuff of legend.
It turned out to be the final live performance by Bob Marley and the Wailers. The reggae superstar had just burst out of Jamaica seven years before, and though he and his band had not yet found the same level of success in the United States as they had in Europe and elsewhere, Marley was enough of a name to draw a crowd to what we now call the Benedum Center.
It turned out to be Marley’s final concert. He was claimed by cancer just seven months later at the age of 36.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Marley is bigger now than he was when he died. The Marley greatest-hits collection, appropriately titled “Legend,” has become one of the best-selling albums in history, moving over 10 million copies and landing at No. 17 on the list of the best-selling albums ever. A steady stream of books about him are being published, a biopic is in the works and you can always see posters of Marley’s smiling face in clothing stores, smoke shops and other places where young, hip people congregate.
And this is for someone who died more than 10 years before today’s college students were born.
Pittsburgh City Paper reported recently that concert promoter Rich Engler is pushing a plan to have a plaque installed at the Benedum, perhaps a year from now, on the concert’s 35th anniversary, to commemorate the event. The venue is owned by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and it has expressed support for the notion.
Southwestern Pennsylvania is rich in history, from the Whiskey Rebellion to Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the 1960 World Series. The final concert by one of the world’s most revered musicians deserves similar recognition.
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